It’s taken 7 1/2 years, but the Independence County Sheriff’s Department now has a Mounted Patrol division.
The concept of a local volunteer mounted (horseback) search and rescue team goes back to mid June 2007 when the idea was introduced to the sheriff’s department by Kathy Schutz of Charlotte.
The idea got put on the back burner by everyone but Schutz, who again revived the idea this past spring with the current sheriff’s department and Chief Deputy Jeremey Qualls.
“We finally got it going,” Qualls said recently. “I’m excited about having a mounted patrol as another resource we can call on. Hopefully we will never need them, but it’s good to know they are there and ready if needed.”
The task of finding lost or injured people is usually handled by county law enforcement using four-wheel drive and all-terrain vehicles, but mounted search teams are a bit different as they use horses.
“They don’t track scents like dogs, but they do have highly developed senses of hearing, smell and sight,” Schutz said. “They are instinctively aware of their surroundings and will alert on anything out of the ordinary, especially the presence of another person or animal.
“Horses can detect something well in advance of the rider,” she said. “The mounted team will then investigate anything that attracts the horse’s attention.”
Qualls explained that when needed the mounted patrol would be an asset to the department because of all the extra sets of eyes and ears.
“The horses themselves are taller and then the rider is even higher than anyone else that might be searching an area,” Qualls said. “Plus, they can go where four-wheelers and even people on foot can’t go.”
“My horse isn’t going to get out in the middle of the woods and run out of gas during a rescue mission,” Schutz said.
The Independence County Mounted Patrol currently has eight members with several more up for review for membership.
“There’s no special training required,” Schutz said. “Just be 21 or older, own a horse, trailer and vehicle to pull them and be willing to serve the community.”
Candidates must also be able to pass a background check by the sheriff’s office.
Patrol members are provided uniform shirts with patches and radios. “Our latest piece of new equipment is custom saddle blankets with the Independence County Sheriff’s Office patch,” Schutz said. “They look great and help identify us to the public.”
In addition to the mounted patrol serving the community in search and rescue missions, it also offers a positive public image at local events like the county fair, water carnival and parades.
“We do foot patrol at local events where horses wouldn’t fit in,” Schutz said. “We have bylaws we have to go by and meet twice a month at the jail chapel.”
Members of the mounted patrol most recently participated in the Cushman Miners Day parade Oct. 11.
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